Publication Date


Document Type


First Advisor

Martin, Randall B.

Degree Name

M.A. (Master of Arts)

Legacy Department

Department of Psychology


Human behavior; Personality


In this study human vicious circle behavior was examined through an attempt to understand its relationship to the personality variables of self-esteem and security. The Test for Dominance-Feeling (Self-esteem) in college women and the Test for Measuring Psychological Security- Insecurity was given to 600 female college students. From this population 10 subjects were selected for each group representing high self-esteem/ high security, low self-esteem/ low security, high self-esteem/low security, and low self-esteem/high security to make a total of 40 subjects. These subjects were then run through an experimental analogue of the vicious circle. Each subject was placed in a situation where she was told she could avoid a shock by pressing a series of five telegraph keys quickly enough to avoid shock. For the first 30 trials, called the acquisition phase, the subjects learned that pressing the keys sequentially and rapidly could help them avoid the shock or at least reduce its duration. Without their knowledge the contingencies of the situation were changed so that the subjects could only avoid the shock by not pressing key four. The subjects would persist in pressing1 the keys sequentially, thus, in effect shocking themselves (punished extinction). It was found that the personality variables of self-esteem and security were related to the subjects' ability to become aware of the changed contingencies and thereby avoid the self-punishment behavior. It was found, as expected, that those individuals who demonstrated high self-esteem/high security also demonstrated a significantly earlier awareness of the changed contingencies than the other three groups. It was also found that those individuals in the low self-esteem/low security group demonstrated a significantly stronger tendency to remain in the vicious circle through the entire 60 extinction trials without reaching awareness. The two intermediate groups showed, as expected, no strong tendency in either direction. In addition, because of a lack of a significant difference between key pressing speeds at the last ten trials of acquisition and the last ten trials of extinction there is some evidence that vicious circle behavior in humans is more likely to be affected by cognitive factors than purely physically conditioned responses.


Includes bibliographical references.


57 pages




Northern Illinois University

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